Connect with us

Featured Articles

#MayPac: The Impossible Waltz

Published

on

“I wanted to give the fans what they wanted to see – they wanted to see a toe-to-toe battle. Fans don’t want to see me moving. They want to see me coming forward, so that’s what we did tonight.”

This is Floyd Mayweather talking to Larry Merchant after his 2010 mismatch with Shane Mosley. Merchant had made his first question about the perceived abandonment by Mayweather of his “defensive genius.”

In truth, Mayweather had done no such thing, but he had changed as a fighter and this was the night upon which it became apparent. Mayweather “retired” in 2007 after two glorious moving performances against Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton, and upon his comeback had matched Juan Manuel Marquez, who he dwarfed. Mayweather spent much of that fight inching forwards or holding ground but he was both the bigger man and the puncher in that fight so his apparently aggressive approach looked natural. But against Mosley he was expected to move.

Everything you might have said about him had he done so could still be said – he was too fast, too quick and too clever for a stumbling Shane Mosley, past-prime but coming off a very impressive win over Antonio Margarito. But he did not move, or to be more precise, he did not fight a moving fight. Even the fighter’s own claim that he “boxed the first couple of rounds” must be called into question as Mayweather and Mosley repeatedly bumped up on the inside, Mayweather even contesting some of the clinches and to the surprise of many his newfound post-retirement size and strength made him far from the victim Mosley’s ruggedness was expected to make of him there. A new reality unfolded: even while he eschewed in disdain Mosley’s body as a target, Mayweather himself had become more available for the jab to the body than at any other time in his career. The payoff was a direct route to Mosley’s head and jaw, which Mayweather filled with punches throughout.

In round two, Shane Mosley hit Mayweather with a right-hand which remains the hardest punch Floyd has ever taken in his ring career. Mayweather was rattled but did not budge; he remained in range, he invited Mosley to the pocket, and allowed his opponent to tag him with another right hand before the round was out. The best mover of his generation had been hit with the hardest punch of his career and left his bike parked at ringside. Mayweather Mark II was born in that moment.

I was sad about this at first. The world is full of fighters who stand their ground and fight but boxers like the one that destroyed Diego Corrales way back in 2001 are incredibly rare. Mayweather was electric, eclectic, using every inch of canvas until Corrales was in control of exactly none of it, giving up square feet and then inches in a gradual easement that was almost otherworldly; that placed him, it seems to me now, nearer the tower inhabited by the likes of Roy Jones and Ray Robinson than the streets where earthbound pugilists swarm.

That argument is for another day though. What interests us now, in the light of the thunderclouds gathering on Mayweather’s horizon in the shape of a perpetually aggressive southpaw, is the recent history of the man they call Money. In shorthand, after Mosley, Mayweather made the most lavish living in all of sports doing what people liked to say he couldn’t do in 2003, namely beat a series of welterweight and light-middleweight pressure fighters in the pocket. Of course he still moved, but his movement was typified now by economy; against Robert Guerrero especially he maintained an exquisitely tight circle, turning his opponent often, inviting him to punch, countering him but just as often throwing out leads in short squabbles over territory that inevitably ended in Mayweather’s favour. Mayweather has written an old tune with his commitment to arbitrary rather than patterned head and upper-body movement but he has taken the song and made it his own. Certainly it wasn’t the steady ground that he gave that baffled Canelo Alvarez in 2013, a shrewd flooding of the space behind him which worked well in bringing the numbed Alvarez steadily forwards, but rather the sudden egress when he allowed Alvarez to catch him that was the difference in that fight. In the sixth he suddenly filled the space he was narrowly vacating with every variety of right hand that can be named, and the fight as a contest was over.

His fight with Cotto, and the first with Marcos Maidana were a little more troubling. In both of these contests Mayweather was, for the first time since the adoption of his new style, pressed. This was not the same as his being buzzed by that chopping Mosley right, this was consistent and direct pressure brought by opponents who believed in their style and their chances, Cotto because of his size and strength, Maidana because of unfettered surety in his own aggression. It would be a gross exaggeration to say that either man came close to beating him, but Mayweather looked uncomfortable.

Against Maidana, especially, Floyd was handled for spells. The Argentine came for him two handed with his head up the middle, which is not to imply that Maidana was butting Mayweather but rather to say that he was brave enough to place his head in a position that made it likely that he would be hit but that eliminated one plane of movement for a Mayweather escape – keep in mind now that I am speaking not of his employing his legs, but rather head and upper body movement. Mayweather couldn’t dip because he would have been driving his face into Maidana’s skull. If he went straight back into the ropes, Maidana would naturally gain space into which he was leaning, again, dangerous, but the brave and the correct decision.

Mayweather elected to hold his ground once more. This was the fight that really called out for a moving strategy; it would have rendered what ended up being a close decision win for Mayweather a rout. Maidana did not have the science or the physical abilities necessary to keep up with the Floyd Mayweather that destroyed Corrales, or even the one that narrowly out-pointed De La Hoya. But still he did not move, still he stayed in the pocket, weaving, tilting, perhaps barely outlanding a fighter that threw around twice as many punches as him and roughed him up in the process. If we could believe Mayweather Senior when he claimed that fighting rather than boxing had been the plan against Mosley, we could not believe that here. Mayweather neglected to move against Maidana not because he wouldn’t but because he couldn’t.

Mayweather’s legs have gone.

When I say “gone”, I don’t, of course, mean “gone”. George Foreman had “no legs” when he won the world’s heavyweight title. A fighter without legs isn’t incapable of movement but rather is incapable of controlling the tempo of the fight with movement.

For a fighter like Foreman Mark II, this is no disaster. He can maintain pressure by shuffling forwards and eating punches, hoping for the chance to land that dream shot. But for a fighter like Mayweather it should have been a total disaster. History tells us that a fighter losing his legs is inevitable and that, in the case of the mobile defensive genius, it signals the end of his career. Ivan Calderon is the best example in recent history. Belatedly admitted to the various pound-for-pound lists published on the internet and elsewhere, he was already past-prime when he became well known to boxing fans. Although he sported quick pistols and fluidity in pulling the trigger, it was footwork that set Calderon apart for the five years he boxed as the best little-man on the planet. When his legs betrayed him he was finished and even against a fighter as limited as Moises Fuentes, who battered him into submission in his very last fight, he was chanceless, sinking sadly to his haunches and accepting the count.

Time moves fast for a fighter who trades on speed of movement and it catches up to every boxer of this style. Even the great Willie Pep was forced to take a knee when his feet couldn’t keep him ahead of the merciless Sandy Saddler. Roy Jones, in turn, was tracked down and destroyed by Glen Johnson, a wolf he would have slaughtered in a previous life but one he could not keep from the door once his legs had betrayed him.

Cast your mind back to the opening paragraph of this article for a moment if you will. Larry Merchant asked Mayweather:

“Floyd…why did you turn yourself from – a defensive wizard into an offensive force?”

And Mayweather replied:

“I wanted to give the fans what they wanted to see – they wanted to see a toe-to-toe battle. Fans don’t want to see me moving. They want to see me coming forward, so that’s what we did tonight.”

A more honest answer would have been, “I’ve got to give the fans what they want to see. The fans won’t see me moving again for twelve rounds because I can’t do it. Sometimes, I’m going to have to come forwards. That’s what we did tonight.”

What Mayweather, like Muhammad Ali before him, has recognised, is that there is another way. Ali knew years before he employed the rope-a-dope against George Foreman that he would have to look for another solution to the fifteen round championship distance, that he couldn’t, even in his prime, dance a 215lb machine around the ring for fifteen rounds. His solution was the ropes, a lot of absorption, an uncanny ability to read punches and a fabulous ability to pick and land counterpunches.

Floyd, like Ali, has endured a period of inactivity prior to which he was the best mover of his generation, and like Ali he has returned to the ring without that mobility. What Ali and Mayweather have both recognised is that control is everything; and if you can’t control the ring with your legs control it some other way. Against Foreman, Ali gave his opponent everything he wanted. Big George came to that ring to walk Ali down and force his (by the standards of the day) old legs into surrender. So Ali gave him exactly what he wanted from the second round and took advantage of the over-exuberance in the “destroy” portion of the “seek and destroy” equation that Foreman personified. Mayweather has done the same thing. He has chosen pressure fighters because he knows he can control them; because he knows at any given moment where they will be and that is front and centre, missing him, and getting hit with counterpunches.

But his legs have still gone. If he could adopt a moving strategy, we would have seen it by now. The maximum he can offer was on display in Mayweather’s last fight, the rematch with Maidana, won by Floyd at a canter as he took measures to ensure he would only intermittently have to fight off the ropes: narrow relaxed steps and a fast clinch when his back touched the top strand. Even this modest commitment to mobility seemed to have a price as Mayweather threw a measly 326 punches according to Compubox (netting him just under 100k a punch), far and away his lowest total ever recorded over twelve rounds. Any physical activity is a balancing act. Running is a balancing act between the legs and the lungs; boxing is a balancing act between movement and fighting, acted upon externally by the opponent. In fights where he punches instead of moves, Mayweather can still toss out over 600 punches as he did against Miguel Cotto. In selecting recommitment to movement to some small degree against Maidana he limited his output severely. Nor is it a matter of contact, a matter of movement keeping him away from the combat zone. Against De La Hoya, Mayweather spent the whole fight moving and threw almost five-hundred punches. This is an exquisite rendering of a fighter past his prime, perched perfectly on the cliff edge it is his destiny to fall from should he go on too long.

Now, finally, enter Manny Pacquiao stage left. Pacquiao himself is many years removed from the 1,000 punches he threw against Joshua Clottey but he is still a destroyer. He is still, on paper, the exact type that would be expected to slaughter a defensive genius forced to adapt to new realities. A hard puncher with an awkward style, he looks every inch Sandy Saddler to Mayweather’s Willie Pep. And yet Mayweather is an overwhelming favourite to win their contest come May 2nd.

Why?

It’s the question that burned for me from almost the moment the fight was made. At first, I was nodding along with those predicting an easy points victory for Mayweather. Sure, why not? He had the clear style advantage all those years ago when the fight was really hot, and although both were past their prime, Manny, still re-gathering himself after a hideous knock out defeat at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, was even more so. But when the fight began to broil under the obsessed eye of the media and I began to check out of the endless coverage I also began to wonder.

Manny wants to forage. He wants to stand just out of range hustling, feinting, dipping, and then bursting forwards into the pocket, firing. In 2008, the likely outcome would have been a slip, a slide, a counter, then a shuck or a step with a right-hand lead to kiss Pacquiao goodbye before sliding back out into some other quarter of the ring. The style advantage then belonged to Mayweather.

Now when Manny forages the likely outcome will be a slip, a counter but then a bump or a clinch or a shoulder-role and a possible exchange. That, to me, sounds like the style advantage now belongs to Pacquiao.

There has been some questions as to who the puncher will be in this fight. Pacquiao has not stopped an opponent since Miguel Cotto in 2009 and Mayweather’s new found strength at 147lbs has impressed many, not least of all me. But this question is neither here nor there in trying to unpick their respective strategies. The question that matters is who wants to initiate the exchanges? To whose advantage are exchanges in this fight? Because it is impossible for Manny to win if output is low, the answer is clearly “Pacquiao”. If, in fact, Mayweather can outpunch him he will still lose, but because there is no opportunity here for him to outbox Mayweather, that unpleasant fact (should it be one) will not affect either man’s strategy.

To sum up in a line: there will be more exchanges in this fight than there would have been in 2008. On paper that narrows the odds in Pacquiao’s favourite.

The stunning knockout of Pacquiao by Marquez and the inevitable diminishing of his punch output has turned the wheel of public perception too far in Mayweather’s direction in my opinion. If Mayweather moves more than he wants to, his engine will suffer and his output will likely drop to somewhere around 400 punches. I don’t think this is necessarily enough to get him over the line. On the other hand, if he elects to stand his ground as his Mark II stylistics have called upon him to do, I would expect him to throw more than five-hundred punches at Pacquiao – which is enough to get the job done but forces him into exchanges with the remnants of the best offence of this generation. Both options contain risks; both options allow Mayweather to exert control over the action – but I believe the first option probably carries the greatest risk of defeat, and that Mayweather who has become, against all the odds, one of the great ring pragmatists, will favour the second option. I expect Mayweather to fight Pacquiao almost exclusively in the pocket in the second two thirds of the fight. He’ll redress the situation with movement on occasion when he starts to feel uncomfortable as he did against Miguel Cotto; we are not going to see Pacquiao machine-gun Mayweather with punches at his age, meaning a Maidana style mauling is off the cards – unless Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao believe a decision to be an impossibility and decide to go for the early stoppage – but for the most part these two are going to spend a great deal of this fight on the edge of exchanges.

My guess is those exchanges will still favour Mayweather. Everyone has been hitting Pacquiao with right hands in recent years, up to and including Chris Algieri, who repeatedly landed a scuffing version of the punch on Manny as he swooped in. Although Algieri had to go to the body to land many of his meaningful rights, Mayweather has perhaps the best right-hand in the business. He will land it often and flush. On the other hand I expect Mayweather to be able to ride, deflect, crowd and step out on most of Pacquiao’s best work. Who, when really thinking about it however, can deny that Pacquiao will, like the past-prime Mosley, have his past-prime moment? In days of Mayweather past the vanishing act in the following round would have been complete, but if Pacquiao hurts Mayweather – when Pacquiao hurts Mayweather – the next three-hundred seconds of combat will be waged in the pocket, the best infighting offence of this generation let loose upon the best defensive infighter of this generation.

That is what is happening May 2nd and I hope it is not just Pacquiao who can gather to himself the praise deserved should he find a route to victory. Mayweather too must be credited, as one of the few defensive geniuses to have relied primarily upon mobility to cement his greatness but survive the departure of that mobility against one of the genuine destroyers of his era, for all that the destroyer was once upon a time a better fighter.

And a final thought – for all that this match might have been fought on a higher plane in 2008 I suspect it would also have been less entertaining.

I would stop short of predicting war, but a taught and hurtful battle is in the offing, I think.

The winner will join Roy Jones and Pernell Whitaker among the pantheon of true modern greats.

WATCH RELATED VIDEOS ON BOXINGCHANNEL.TV

Advertisement

Featured Articles

Results from Las Vegas where Rafael Espinoza Retained his WBO Title in Grand Style

Published

on

Results-from-Las-Vegas-where-Rafael-Espinoza-Reyained-his-WBO-Belt-in-Grand-Style

Top Rank made its first foray to the newest Las Vegas Strip resort, the Fontainebleu, tonight. Topping the bill was an all-Mexican featherweight title fight between Guadalajara’s Rafael Espinoza and Oaxaca’s Sergio Chirino. The lanky Espinoza, at six-foot-one the tallest featherweight world title-holder in history, was making the first defense of the title he won with a shocking upset of Robeisy Ramirez and tonight he looked sensational.

Espinoza, who advanced his record to 25-0 with his 21st KO, had his countryman on the canvas in the very first round, the result of a counter left uppercut. Chirino wasn’t badly hurt, but it quickly became apparent that he was out-gunned. In round three, Espinoza sent him to the canvas again with a four-punch combo climaxed by a short left to the liver, and Chirino would be down once again in the following round, hunched down from a series of punches that caught only air. At this juncture, referee Raul Caiz Jr wisely stepped in and stopped the fight. The official time was 2:45 of round four. Chirino, who came in riding a 13-fight winning streak, declined to 22-2.

Espinoza is expected to have a rematch with Ramirez, provided that Robeisy gets past his Mexican opponent later this month in a match that, on paper, looks like an easy win for the Cuban southpaw. In their first meeting, the unheralded Espinoza was a massive underdog. Based on his showing tonight, he looks no worse than “pick-‘em” in the sequel.

Co-Feature

In a 10-round junior lightweight fight, North Las Vegas native Andres Cortes scored a unanimous decision over former world title challenger Abraham Nova. The scores favored the local fighter by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 twice.

Cortes had the crowd in his corner, but the reaction when the verdict was announced was one of surprise. Nova, who was credited with throwing and landing more punches, was in better condition and seemingly had the best of it in the late rounds. It was the twenty-second win without a loss for Cortes. Nova (23-3), a class act,  was diplomatic in defeat.

Also

In a true crossroads fight (a “pink slip” fight in the words of ESPN commentator Mark Kriegel),Troy Isley, a former Olympian and stablemate of Terence Crawford, out-worked Javier Martinez to win a unanimous 10-round decision. The judges had it 96-92-and 97-91 twice.

The middleweights were well-acquainted, having split four fights at the amateur level. Isley, from Alexandria, VA, improved to 13-0 (5) Martinez, born in Milwaukee to immigrants from Mexico, was 10-0-1 heading in. Both fighters lost a point for low blows after repeated warnings from referee Tony Weeks.

Other Bouts of Note

In an 8-round bantamweight fight that turned zesty after a slow start, Floyd Mayweather Jr protégé Floyd “Cashflow” Diaz improved to 12-0 (3) with a unanimous decision over Tijuana’s Francisco Pedroza (18-12-2). The judges had it 78-73 across the board. Diaz was making his second start under the tutelage of Brian “Bomac” McIntyre. Pedroza lost a point in round six for hitting on the break.

Steven Navarro, a hot prospect from a prominent SoCal boxing family, won his second pro fight with a 6-round shutout over rugged but outclassed Juan Pablo Meza (7-4), a 33-year-old Chilean.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Continue Reading

Featured Articles

Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

Published

on

Will-Eumor-Marcial-be-the-First-Filipino-Boxer-to-win-an-Olympic-Gold-Medal?

Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

Over the years, some of the world’s best boxers have been Filipino. Long before Manny Pacquiao there was Pancho Villa (Francisco Villaruel Guilledo) who became a national hero at the age of twenty-one when he captured the world flyweight title with a one-sided beat-down of Jimmy Wilde in 1923, knocking the legendary Welshman into retirement. But one thing is missing from the Pinoy boxing catalog, an Olympic gold medal. There have been eight medalists in all, four silver and four bronze, but the coveted gold has proved elusive.

Eumir Marcial came close in Tokyo. He advanced to the semi-finals in the middleweight competition where he lost a razor-thin decision to his Ukrainian opponent. Two of the judges favored him, but that was one short of what was needed.

“It took a long time for me to get over it, but I came to accept that God had a different plan for me,” says Marcial who gets another crack at it next month. He survived the qualifying tournaments and is headed to Paris where he will carry the flag of the Philippines into the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad.

Eumir (you-meer) Marcial grew up in Zamboanga City in the southern region of the archipelago, a two-day trip to Manila by ferry. He was introduced to boxing by his father Eulalio Marcial who besides being a farmer and a jitney driver is also the head coach of the Zamboanga City (amateur) boxing team.

Eulalio’s son is a big wheel in his native habitat, one of the more urbanized areas of the Philippines. This past October, when Eumir returned to Zamboanga City with his silver medal from the Asian Games in China, a motorcade awaited him at the airport and he was whisked to City Hall where he was feted in a ceremony organized by civic leaders.

In Las Vegas, where he was been training for the Olympics, he’s anonymous. No one genuflects when he walks into the DLX Gym in the company of his attractive wife Princess. He’s just another face in the crowd and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Marcial had one pro fight under his belt before the Tokyo Games. In December of 2020, he won a 4-round decision over a 3-1 opponent from Idaho on a card in Los Angeles. Not quite two months before that fight, while training at Freddie Roach’s gym, Marcial, who has two sisters, received the devastating news that his only brother Eliver had died in the Philippines of a sudden heart attack at age 39. Despite the age difference, the two were extremely close.

Marcial has had four more pro fights since then, advancing his record to 5-0 (3 KOs). In two of those fights, he had anxious moments.

In his second pro fight, he was knocked down three times in the first two frames, but gathered his wits about him and stopped his opponent in round four. In his next outing, a 6-rounder on the undercard of a Showtime PPV, he fought through a bad gash over his right eye, the result of an accidental head butt.

“I learned a lot from those fights,” says Marcial, “and they will make me a better Olympian than I was in 2021.”

Marcial spent nearly 10 years in the Philippines Air Force, but as somewhat of a civilian employee, spending little time around aircraft. He attracted a lot of attention after winning the AIBA world junior championship as a 15-year-old bantamweight in Kazakhstan in 2011. The Air Force seized on his growing fame to make him a recruiting specialist.

The word icon is over-used, but not when applied to Manny Pacquiao who overcame abject poverty to become an international superstar. “He was an inspiration to me,” says Marcial who references “PacMan” as Sir Manny or Senator Manny when he speaks about him.

The two would become well-acquainted. Pacquiao co-promoted Marcial’s last pro fight in Manila which was nationally televised in the Philippines and billed as a homecoming for Eumir who hadn’t fought in a Manila ring in five years. (He knocked out his Thai opponent in the fourth round.)

Marcial recalls some advice that Pacquiao gave him: “He said to me, ‘the higher you get, the more humble you should be.’”

Humbleness comes natural to the affable Marcial who is unstinting in his praise of those who have helped him along on his journey. “I would not have gotten through the qualifying tournament for the Paris games if not for my coach Kay Koroma,” he says.

Nowadays, whenever a Filipino boxer appears for a photo-op, Sean Gibbons is certain to be standing close by. Gibbons, who has homes in Las Vegas and the Philippines, has had an amazing ride since the days when he plied the Oklahoma and Midwest circuits, driving hundreds of miles each month to small shows in the sticks, transporting carloads of journeymen boxers with him. “[Sean Gibbons] helps us with accommodations, rental cars, whatever we need, and I am so grateful to him,” says Marcial of the man (pictured above on the left) who wears many hats but is perhaps best described as a facilitator.

Making matters more daunting for Marcial going forward, his weight class was eliminated when the governing body of the Olympics added a new weight category for women, subtracting one from the men. A middleweight (165-pound ceiling) in Tokyo, he will perform as a light heavyweight (176-pound ceiling) in Paris.

Eumir Marcial will return to the pro ranks regardless of what happens in France, but lassoing that elusive Olympic gold medal would likely bring him more joy than anything he may accomplish at the next level.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Featured Articles

A Pearl from the Boxing Vault: Fritzie Zivic Will See You Now 

Published

on

A-Pearl-from-the-Boxing-Vault-Fritzie-Zivnic-Will-See-You-Now

“He was a great teacher,” said Billy Conn. “[Fighting Zivic] was like going to college for five years, just boxing him ten rounds…”

Fritzie Zivic never asked why. He never asked if his opponent hit hard, if his opponent deserved the shot, if the opponent would be tough. He just said “yes” and signed the contract. While [Jake] LaMotta, who somehow gained the reputation for fearlessness of which Zivic was more deserving, was asked about Charley Burley, he is supposed to have muttered “Why do I need Burley when I have Zivic?” Zivic, of course, stepped out of his weight class to lose an under-celebrated series with LaMotta, and was one of the few top white contenders to ever meet the avoided Burley.

Perhaps this fearlessness is the reason why Zivic may have fought a better array of boxers than any fighter in history. In addition to the multiple contests with LaMotta and Burley, he met Kid Azteca, Bob Montgomery, Beau Jack, Henry Armstrong, Freddie Cochrane, Lew Jenkins, Izzy Jannazzo, Phil Furr, Bummy Davis, Sammy Angott, Lou Ambers and Jimmy Leto, something very close to a “who’s who” of boxing’s golden age, and he met most of them more than once. He didn’t always win, but he always gave his all and for this the people and the promoters of his hometown of Pittsburgh and beyond loved him. Other fighters? Not so much.

“He’s the dirtiest fighter I ever met,” claimed Charley Burley after his disputed points loss in their first fight. “He thumbed me over and over again.”

“When you fight for a living,” Zivic would explain years later, “if you’re smart you fight with every trick you know. If I hadn’t known nine zillion of them I never could have won the welterweight title from Henry Armstrong.”

In the modern era, fighters can come to a title without even matching a top contender. Forty fights is a career. But in the 1940s, it was unusual to see a champion with so few fights, even a young one. Like other trades, to reach the top of the heap a fighter had to become a master craftsman, the tools at his disposal needed to be of the highest quality. To this end, fighters needed to be matched often or tough or both. But there were and are some fighters who can provide a special lesson to that prospect or contender, a boxing lesson that, win or lose, crystallizes the nature of the sport for the man in the opposite corner.

Fritzie Zivic was such a fighter. Unquestionably world class in his own right, Zivic was a quick learner who took his “zillion tricks” and applied them to roughhouse boxing that tested every corner of his opponent, technical, physical and mental. Anybody that beat him looked destined for the top, anyone that lost could still pick up more than a thing or two. Unquestionably teak-tough, a stinging if not prohibitive puncher, he could box inside or out and a tight defense and iron chin kept him to two legitimate stoppage losses in a 232-fight career. But unquestionably, Zivic’s greatest strength were his smarts, the tricks, traps and roughhouse tactics he absorbed like a sponge during his eighteen years in the ring.

In December of 1936, Zivic would teach some of these tricks to a wonder-kid tearing his way up the middleweight division, one Billy Conn. Zivic was not yet in his own absolute prime but he was twenty-three and listed as a veteran of some sixty-eight fights. Still a teenager, Conn would at least have had bulk to fall back on as a substitute for experience, weighing some seven pounds heavier on fight night at just under 157lbs.

Zivic started fast, attacking with both hands and Conn allowed him his way, trying to outbox and outpunch the smaller man in the pocket. This had become Billy’s habit, fighting, as he did, in a fan-friendly manner that had made him Pittsburgh’s favorite prospect. He had been in a desperately close series with resident local tough and brutal infighter “Honey Boy” Jones. According to some, Conn had been lucky to emerge from their third fight with a decision, his inability to adapt costing him dear in points and punches. Now Zivic fought in a style intent on taking advantage of the same flaws Jones had partially exposed, and Billy was paying for it in blood.

“Through two torrid rounds,” wrote Regis Welsh for The Pittsburgh Press, “Fritzie belted Conn to a fare-thee-well, but never quite touched the vital spot. At the end of the second…[Conn] was smeared with blood from a cut on his left cheek and a badly battered mouth.”

The press hadn’t yet been enlightened to Conn’s iron chin and it’s quite possible that Fritzie had found the “vital spot” over and again throughout the fight. As time would tell, even history’s mightiest puncher would struggle to get over on the near invulnerable Conn. However, at the beginning of the third Billy looked “tired, weary and worn out” and “in the fourth and fifth, Zivic, in a rushing charge, bore Conn to neutral ropes and belted him about the head and body until it seemed that the anticipated kayo was inevitable.”

It needs to be said though, that in spite of his fighting the wrong fight, Conn was doing his own good work, mainly to the body. Some reports credit Conn with turning the fight with a body punch as early as the third, but whilst the supposed fight of two halves (Zivic winning the first five, Conn coming back in the second half of the fight) did not occur, it’s unlikely that Conn’s hooks had the supposed affect this early. Only two judges scored the third for Conn, and all three gave Zivic the fourth. Conn wouldn’t win a round on all three judges’ scorecards until the sixth.

It was in the sixth round that Conn cracked, and went outside. In the seventh and eighth Conn “boxed beautifully…he danced, feinted, pranced and punched.”  Zivic, now out of his element as a bullying counterpuncher and destructive infighter struggled to get past Billy’s “piston-like” jab. Conn had been trained for this by defensive specialist Johnny Ray from the very beginning, but he had been unable to make the transition in the ring until Fritzie had forced it. As one would expect, Zivic now changed tactics too, gunning almost exclusively for the body, only hunting Conn with power punches, bringing him the eighth round on one card. In the tenth, they went at it toe-to-toe again. “The boys used everything but knives,” stated the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “A wild-eyed crowd looked on.” The final round was shared on the three official cards resulting in a split decision win for Conn (6-3-1, 5-4-1, 4-5-1).

“From a mile in the rear to a nose in front takes heart in a man or a horse,” wrote Welsh in The Press. “Particularly in a novice of Conn’s immature ring experience against a seasoned veteran of Zivic’s type.”

Zivic’s type indeed! Fritzie was hell on wheels for a young fighter, one that hadn’t seen a top class cutie, never mind a back-alley wizard. But Conn knew what that fight had been worth, and he knew he was the better for it.

“He was a great teacher. [Fighting Zivic] was like going to college for five years, just boxing him ten rounds…I learned a lot in that fight. He’s a tough fighter, but I believe I’m just as tough.”

It’s a double lesson for a relative novice like Conn. First, he remembers every foul, every slither out of sight of the referee, every feint that cost him a round, every dig inside on the break. But it also teaches him that he can take it, that he can get in there with world-class fighters who know more than him and beat them. The first lesson is priceless, but the second can be the key to a career. Over the next twelve months the young Conn, who had struggled so desperately with Honey Boy Jones only three months earlier, would defeat great champions and ring legends such as Teddy Yarosz, Young Corbett III and Vince Dundee before adding Fred Apostoli and Solly Krieger and annexing the world’s light heavyweight title in 1939.

In 1941 he would be matched with the great Joe Louis. It would be unfair to Conn’s great trainer Ray, and to Conn himself, to lay too much credit for Conn’s legendary performance at Zivic’s door, but Conn’s tactics against Louis—mixing careful, punch-picking infighting with beautiful movement and judge of distance on the outside—were basically a more perfect version of the tactics he used in rounds six, seven, eight and nine against Zivic.

As for the teacher, he was naturally disappointed and was keen on a rematch, but fate was to intervene. Zivic would contract pneumonia the following summer whilst training for a match with Vince Dundee.

Chet Smith, then editor of The Pittsburgh Press: “There didn’t seem to be a chance for him…so we collected all we knew about him, wrote it into a story and sent it to the composing room…There were two weeks when it was touch and go with Fritzie, and the hospital folk refused to give out a single cheerful bulletin. We knew of course when he finally came out of the hospital that his boxing days were ended.”

I guess Zivic would have snorted at that. However they build them out in Zivic’s ancestral Croatia, they build them tough because Zivic was not only far from ended as a boxer, he would get better. There were more lessons to give out. The greatest fighter that would ever draw breath, he needed a lesson.

“I learned more in these two fights with Zivic than in all my other fights put together!”

So said Ray Robinson after pulling off the extraordinary feat of stopping Zivic in January of 1942. But this was the second time Zivic, a rarity in that he never discriminated against opposition on the grounds of colour or quality, had met Robinson. The first had occurred when Zivic had already slipped past his absolute prime, in October of 1941.

“It might have been a draw. It was close,” wrote the correspondent for The Telegraph Herald, but Zivic, the heavier man for a change, looked unsurprised at the unanimous decision against him. In the middle rounds he had, to a degree, had his way with Robinson but Sugar’s explosive domination of the ninth had left him struggling and at no time had he solved the Robinson jab. He knew he was beaten. “[Robinson] took a unanimous decision with such a convincing demonstration of speed and power,” wrote United Press ringside reporter Jack Cuddy, “that he will be favored to win the title.”

Robinson was learning from Zivic the same thing Conn had, that he could master a man at the next level, a veteran, a bigger one at that. But he learned more specific and unpleasant lessons in this fight, too.

“He was about the smartest I ever fought,” Robinson would later say in conversation with writer WC Heinz.  “…he showed me how you can make a man butt open his own eye…he’d slip my lead, then he’d put his hand behind my neck and he’d bring my eye down on his head. Fritzie was smart.”

He also taught Ray that he could coast a little in those middle rounds, that at the highest level he didn’t need to put forth every ounce in every moment, that he could let the occasional round go as long as he was paying attention. The same pattern that Sugar used in his first fight with Zivic he would use in his sixth fight with LaMotta, for the middleweight title, contesting the early rounds, easing off in the middle, and finishing so strongly as to stop the unstoppable, lifting the title on a late TKO. He sharpened that tool for the first time against Zivic.

By now Zivic was almost past the stage of teaching fighters of Robinson’s calibre lessons, but he had one more to give in their second fight just three months later.

Firstly, Robinson showed the importance of a lesson learned, nullifying Zivic’s darker arts, like Conn he was a better fighter for his 10 rounds in the ring with Fritzie. He worked hard to the body in clinches he couldn’t contest with craft or strength (something else he would repeat against LaMotta in their title meeting) and he was careful to break clinches at any cost when Zivic looked to utilize those lethal butts. When his opponent tried holding and hitting on the referee’s blindside, instead of trading he would dance away. Robinson had learned that the man who owned the real estate would win the negotiation and Zivic was being outclassed as a result. Of the first six rounds he won perhaps the first. In the seventh though, Robinson momentarily forgot himself and Fritzie delivered his last lesson. As Robinson came in Zivic stepped back and cracked Robinson with a left hook. “It really hurt. I was coming in and it met me on the chin!” Robinson would say afterwards that it was the hardest punch he had ever been hit with, according to The Afro American.

In the middle of the ninth, Robinson dropped Zivic with a perfect mirror image of the punch he had been shown in the seventh, using the right hand to ditch the heavier man as he was on the way in. Up at nine, Zivic never recovered, and although he was likely stopped prematurely in the tenth, he had nothing left to teach, at least not to Sugar. At 28-0, Ray, like Billy before him, saw his 20 rounds with Zivic as nothing less than finishing school for one of the most storied careers in boxing. They are only two of the dozens of fighters that Fritzie took to school, but perhaps they are the gifts he helped in giving that we can be most grateful for.

For the purposes of this article we’ve taken a look at three Zivic losses. I hoped, by looking at his fights with Billy Conn and Sugar Ray, we might see the benefit of letting a top prospect meet a dangerous genius-thug like Fritzie, the self-proclaimed “second dirtiest fighter in history” (he reserved top spot for Harry Greb). But Zivic did lose those fights. Let it not be forgotten then that between losing to Conn and Robinson, Zivic lifted the world’s welterweight title, destroying with a mixture of aggression, uppercuts and that dirty bag of tricks for which he remains famous, one Henry Armstrong. Zivic finished Armstrong as title material, beating him for the championship of the world not once but twice.

A 4-1 underdog, Zivic had been magnanimous about his own chances going in to their opener.

“If I lose it won’t be the first fight I lost, and if I win it, it won’t be the first fight I won.”

But Zivic had learned his own brutal lessons across the years and would be merciless in bringing them to bear. Also, across the years, between his title win and these more enlightened times, Zivic’s achievement in beating Armstrong has been undermined. Armstrong was old. He was past his best. Zivic had to get dirty to do it. All of that may be true, but it needs to be remembered that Armstrong had gone undefeated in thirteen bouts prior to meeting Zivic and that all of these fights were in defence of his welterweight crown, outside of one, his celebrated tilt at a world middleweight title. It needs to be remembered that in the previous three months, Armstrong had knocked out world-class contenders Phil Furr and Lew Jenkins. It needs to be remembered that Armstrong had his own bag of tricks, and that referee Arthur Donovan’s famous refrain, “if you guys wanna fight like that it‘s okay with me” was prompted by an Armstrong foul and not a Zivic one.

Most of all it needs to be remembered that Zivic never asked why, he just signed the contract. Whichever way you want to look at it, they just don’t make them like that anymore.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Ireland's-McKenna-Brothers-are-Poised-to-Make-Big-Waves-in-the-Squared-Circle
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Ireland’s McKenna Brothers are Poised to Make Big Waves in the Squared Circle

Christian-Mbilli-has-the-Wow-Factor-Dismisses-Mark-Heffron-in-40-Seconds
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The-Inoue-and-Serrano-Championship-Warches
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

The Inoue and Serrano Championship Watches

Boxinjg-Odds-and-Ends-A-Bountiful-June-and-a-Cult-Fighter-Returns-from-Prisonj
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Boxing Odds and Ends: A Bountiful June and a Cult Fighter Returns from Prison

Big-Bang-KOs-the-Bronze-Bomber-in-the-Heavyweight-Finale-of-a-Splendid-Show-in-Saudi-Arabia
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

‘Big Bang’ KOs the Bronze Bomber in the Heavyweight Finale of a Splendid Card in Saudi Arabia

How-Soon-Before-We-Know-the-Fate-of-Ryan-Garcia-and-Will-the-Result-Stand?
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

How Soon Before We Know the Fate of Ryan Garcia and Will the Result Stand?

Gay-Talese-an-Icon-of-the-New-Journalism-Wrote-Extensively-About-Boxing
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Gay Talese, an Icon of the ‘New Journalism,’ Wrote Extensively About Boxing

Ireland's-Callum-Walsh-KOs-Carlos-Ortiz-at-the-Chumash-Casino
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Ireland’s Callum Walsh KOs Carlos Ortiz at the Chumash Casino

Okolie-Demolishes-Rozanski-to-Jump-Start-a-Busy-Boxing-Weekend
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Okolie Demolishes Rozanski to Jump-Start a Busy Boxing Weekend

zhilei-Zhang-and-Deontay-Wilder-Meet-at-the-Final-Crossroads
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder Meet at the Final Crossroads

Avila-Perspective-Chap-285-Heavyweights-Clash-in-Saudi-Arabia-and-More
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 285: Heavyweights Clash in Saudi Arabia and More

Sweet-Revenge-for-the-Cat-Catterall-Outpoints-Taylor-in-a-Fan-Friendly-Fight
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Sweet Revenge for the ‘Cat’: Catterall Outpoints Taylor in a Fan-Friendly Fight

Boxing-at-the-Paris-Olympics-Looking-Ahead-and-Looking-Back
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

A-True-Tale-from-the-Boxing-Vault-When-the-Champion-Refused-to-Fight
Featured Articles6 days ago

A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

Canastota-Chronicles-2024
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Canastota Chronicles 2024

Boxing-Notes-and-Nuggets-from-Thomas-Hauser
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Boxing Notes and Nuggets from Thomas Hauser

Resukts-from-Florida-Where-Blair-Cobbs-Proved-Superior-to-Adrien-Broner
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Results from Florida Where Blair Cobbs Proved Superior to Adrien Broner

Results-from-the-MGM-Grand-where-Gervonta-Davis-Returned-with-a-Bang
Featured Articles6 days ago

Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

Xander-Zayas-Wins-a-Lopsided-Decision-Over-Patrick-Teixeira
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Xander Zayas Wins a Lopsided Decision over Patrick Teixeira

Notes-on-Saturday's-Boxing-Card-Featuring-the-Return-of-Gervonta-Tank-Davis
Featured Articles1 week ago

Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Results-from-Las-Vegas-where-Rafael-Espinoza-Reyained-his-WBO-Belt-in-Grand-Style
Featured Articles12 hours ago

Results from Las Vegas where Rafael Espinoza Retained his WBO Title in Grand Style

Will-Eumor-Marcial-be-the-First-Filipino-Boxer-to-win-an-Olympic-Gold-Medal?
Featured Articles2 days ago

Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

A-Pearl-from-the-Boxing-Vault-Fritzie-Zivnic-Will-See-You-Now
Featured Articles3 days ago

A Pearl from the Boxing Vault: Fritzie Zivic Will See You Now 

Abraham-Nova-and-his-Mascot-are-Back-in-Action-on-Friday-Night
Featured Articles5 days ago

Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

A-True-Tale-from-the-Boxing-Vault-When-the-Champion-Refused-to-Fight
Featured Articles6 days ago

A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

Results-from-the-MGM-Grand-where-Gervonta-Davis-Returned-with-a-Bang
Featured Articles6 days ago

Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

Billam-Smith-Avenges-Lone-Defeat-Retains-Cruiser-Belt-in-a-Messy-Fight
Featured Articles7 days ago

Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight

Notes-on-Saturday's-Boxing-Card-Featuring-the-Return-of-Gervonta-Tank-Davis
Featured Articles1 week ago

Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Boxing-at-the-Paris-Olympics-Looking-Ahead-and-Looking-Back
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

Arne's-Almanac-More-Chaos-for-Ryan-Garcia-and-a-Note-on-Don-King's-Impotent-'Whip'
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Arne’s Almanac: More Chaos for Ryan Garcia and a Note on Don King’s Impotent ‘Whip’

Canastota-Chronicles-2024
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Canastota Chronicles 2024

Boxing-Notes-and-Nuggets-from-Thomas-Hauser
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Boxing Notes and Nuggets from Thomas Hauser

Xander-Zayas-Wins-a-Lopsided-Decision-Over-Patrick-Teixeira
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Xander Zayas Wins a Lopsided Decision over Patrick Teixeira

Ireland's-Callum-Walsh-KOs-Carlos-Ortiz-at-the-Chumash-Casino
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Ireland’s Callum Walsh KOs Carlos Ortiz at the Chumash Casino

Resukts-from-Florida-Where-Blair-Cobbs-Proved-Superior-to-Adrien-Broner
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Results from Florida Where Blair Cobbs Proved Superior to Adrien Broner

The-Inoue-and-Serrano-Championship-Warches
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

The Inoue and Serrano Championship Watches

Avila-Prospectus-Chap-287-360-Promotions-Don-King-and-More-Action
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 289: 360 Promotions, Don King and More Action

Boxinjg-Odds-and-Ends-A-Bountiful-June-and-a-Cult-Fighter-Returns-from-Prisonj
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Boxing Odds and Ends: A Bountiful June and a Cult Fighter Returns from Prison

Big-Bang-KOs-the-Bronze-Bomber-in-the-Heavyweight-Finale-of-a-Splendid-Show-in-Saudi-Arabia
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

‘Big Bang’ KOs the Bronze Bomber in the Heavyweight Finale of a Splendid Card in Saudi Arabia

Avila-Perspective-Chap-285-Heavyweights-Clash-in-Saudi-Arabia-and-More
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 285: Heavyweights Clash in Saudi Arabia and More

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending

Advertisement